Guest Columnist

For older Iowans, it's like deja vu all over again

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

One of baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra’s great quotes was “It’s like deja vu all over again.” Yogi’s turn of the phrase implied that something being experienced had been seen or felt many times before.

Well, I doubt that Yogi had the Iowa Legislature in mind when he said it, but it certainly applies.

The deja vu of the legislature pertains to its failure to deal with the issues and challenges of being an older Iowan. The failure is perennial, and predictable.

The sad reality is this — the 2018 session of the Iowa Legislature, like many of its predecessors, did little to address the multiple and critical issues facing older Iowans.

Earlier this year, I challenged those who control what happens — Republican leaders of the Iowa House and Senate, and a Republican Governor and her appointees that head state agencies — to craft an older Iowans agenda, publicize it, commit to it, and get to work on it.

They didn’t do it.

Once again, our leaders were content to talk about some of the issues and then find an excuse (“we have no money,” “now is not a good time,” “let’s deal with this next year,” etc.) to avoid action.

The avoidance is concerning because the issues are so big, so significant, and so in need of attention. It boggles the mind that leaders who know what the population trend lines in Iowa are, (one of every 4 Iowans is a baby boomer, the fastest growing segment of our population is 85 years of age and up, etc.) are content to just keep hitting the snooze button.

Many efforts have been made over the past several years to identify the challenges faced by older Iowans. These efforts have been made by advocacy groups, the Department on Aging, the Department of Public Health, and the Governor’s Office. Some excellent work has been done to highlight these challenges, and to propose solutions.

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Here’s the great frustration — as a state, we have been content to talk, study, convene forums and conferences, and then just write reports about what’s been discussed.

Our leaders have failed miserably to follow-through. They’ve listened but haven’t heard. And since they haven’t heard, they haven’t led.

What Iowans have asked leaders to do:

• Strengthen the financial security of older Iowans by creating new ways to pay for the high costs of long-term services and supports.

• Build the paid direct care workforce (certified nurse aides, home care aides, etc.) needed to support the growing number of older Iowans.

• Better inform and support the approximately 500,000 family and other informal caregivers who assist loved ones in staying as independent as possible, for as long as possible.

• Bolster the services and visibility of the Area Agencies on Aging and the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman in order to allow them to better serve more Iowans.

• Address the growing challenges of loneliness, isolation, neglect and abuse that too often comes along with old age.

• Help Iowans live longer and better in their homes and communities by ensuring that services like transportation, home modification, home health care, adult day care and respite care are readily available.

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• Find and implement alternative placements for sexual and violent offenders now housed in nursing facilities.

The requests for action have produced little. Most have been ignored. Some have led to more of the same … more talk, study and plans, but little action.

So what do we do? Throw in the towel?

I suggest we keep pushing, and use whatever tools we have to get leaders to lead.

The biggest tool we have in 2018 is the ballot box.

If you think the concerns of older Iowans deserve to be a greater priority, get engaged in the fall election campaigns. Support candidates who care about aging issues, and commit to action. Help their campaigns in whatever way you can.

By doing so, you’ll impact the future — a future that, hopefully, will not be déjà vu all over again.

• John Hale is co-owner of The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based consulting, advocacy and communication firm. Comments: hale_johnd@msn.com

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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